February 15, 2020

This day was made for me, and I for this day.

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Against the wind, under the rain, onto the streets, towards the School, via the shop, for Visiting Day. The weather had begun to churn. Within a few hours, the roads would be sprinkled with a confetti of twigs shaken from the trees. The visitors were undaunted, however; some arrived early, having braved the turbulent air against which no umbrella was a match:

This may be just another visiting day for staff, but for the applicant it’s one of the most significant in their lives thus far. The futures of many young people (chiefly) would be decided today. It’s a daunting responsibility for staff. The interview itself is friendly, searching (on the part of both participants), open, and non-intimidating. Interviewer and interviewee need to be themselves. For our part, as staff, we’re looking as much for evidence of an ability to learn as of learning. Crucially, passion and commitment must be as visible as the work in the portfolio. The parents often appear as apprehensive as their children on a day like this. And why not? They’re having to assess the wisdom of handing over their offspring to us for the next three years. Will their daughter or son be not only taught in an exemplary manner but also cared for through the storms that will at times unsettle their life during the course of the degree.

(‘One day, this day (and those like it) won’t feel at all routine. Rather, they’ll shine like polished gold: the blessed time of remembrance’, the voice enjoined.)

Several visitors had predicted A and A* grades in both Art and Maths. Which rather does the lie to the old wisdom that you can’t be good at both. Some of the best students that I’ve ever taught were those enrolled on the now (sadly) defunct Joint-Honours Art and Maths degree. A number of applicants who excelled at Maths were equally able in Music too. But that oughtn’t to be surprising. I wrote up my observations and responses afterwards. Our protocol is to write to each applicant something personal and positive that encapsulates the essence of the discussion.

From my office widow, in the far distance, I could see the white crests of the storm-blown waves crashing against the Promenade. The rain dribbled down the window panes, turning the landscape beyond painterly:

1.30 pm: The afternoon ‘batch’. I’ve interviewed some astonishingly good applicants today — among the best for many years. They were honest, self-deprecatory, and considered in their responses, and presented exemplary portfolios of work too. 3.15 pm: My quota fulfilled, I turned to postgraduate admission admin before returning home to more admin and for a review of my paper, until 5.00 pm.

Some advice to applicants:

  • Don’t shrink to the size of your subject at university; keep up your hobbies and other interests, if possible.
  • Your experience of art education at university level will be substantially different to that at secondary school, in every dimension.
  • Think deeply, read much, listen to demanding music, visit theatres, see art-house films, attend galleries and museums, exercise, and eat wisely. To be an artist of merit takes more than the acquisition of facility.
  • What do your parents, carers, teachers, or significant other think about your decision to apply to the School? The perspective of those who know you best and love you most is worth considering.
  • Who you are and what you wish to become is as important as what you’ve done and wish to do at this juncture in your development.
  • In order to persuade me of your cause, you must first persuade yourself of it.

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